To prepare for success in a public relations job, it’s imperative to develop the ability to catch basic errors before submitting work to a boss. After all, how can a supervisor promote you if you can’t be trusted to adequately proof your work?
Examples of basic errors include missing words, quotation marks facing the wrong way, missing periods and spelling errors. These are errors that someone in junior high should be able to catch.
If your public relations professor penalizes harshly for typos, consider it tough love. As John Mitchell says, “I have zero tolerance for spelling errors…It’s tough love, but they’ll appreciate it later. Hear it all the time from the initiated.”
In my writing classes, I grade work based on content, organization and writing mechanics, and I allow students to rewrite their work for an averaged grade. For the writing mechanics part, I apply the following rubric:
A: 1-3 minor errors
B: 4-7 minor errors
C: 8-11 errors, which could include one basic error (such as a spelling error)
D: 12-15 errors, which could include two basic errors
F: 16+ errors
Minor errors refer to mistakes such as comma placement and parallel structure.
I asked public relations practitioners on the #prprofs hashtag about how they penalize for typos.
- Tina McCorkindale at Appalachian State University lowers a grade to a C for the first spelling error and lowers it to an F for the second spelling error; however, misspelling a client’s name is an automatic F. Deductions for grammar depend on the frequency of the problems.
- Ginger Carter Miller at Georgia College deducts 10 percent for a spelling error and 2 percent for minor corrections.
- Richard Waters at North Carolina State University takes off 10 points for a spelling error.
Other public relations professors, feel free to share how you treat typos.
Why catching basic errors is important
I posted a question about why proofing matters to my Facebook page and received insightful comments from former students.
“Aside from the fact that your writing represents you and your organization, spelling errors (and grammar/punctuation errors for that matter) are simply careless. And, I would bet that most people wouldn’t categorize themselves as careless. And, tell them to appreciate that you are correcting them now because if they accept it and actually learn from it, then they will be better off in the long run.
In the end, you want to become the person that others come to for reviews/edits of their work and be known as the one who writes things that never need edits.” — Michelle Betrock, publicist, the Food Network and Cooking Channel, New York.
“Attention to detail takes on a whole new meaning when you’re just starting out — and working to not only establish yourself as a professional but also to separate yourself from your peers. People — more importantly, bosses — take note and do remember.
Just like any habit, once it sticks, you’re set — and it only happens after repeated effort and being held to high standards time and time again. Your students may not like it NOW, but I can guarantee that they will be thanking you later, when the quality of their work sets them apart and brings them big rewards.” — Kristen Bothwell, senior account executive, Rubenstein Communications, New York.
How to catch basic errors
- Slowly proof a printed copy of your work, preferably the next day. Some people like reading aloud, and some people like to read in reverse order, from the last sentence to the first sentence.
- Don’t write in all CAPS when you are writing a headline because spell check does not check all caps words (tip from Michelle Betrock). You can always change words to all CAPS later if you need to do so by going to format and font and then checking the box for “all CAPS.”
- Have a friend read your work with fresh eyes to specifically proof for basic errors. In the professional world, this would be the equivalent of having a co-worker proof your work before you submit your work to a supervisor.
Michelle also offered the following advice:
“Tell your students to read ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves.’ Also, I always teach people to write AND edit ON PURPOSE. What I mean by that is this: Don’t just write something mindlessly and haphazardly; each time you type a letter, word, punctuation — be sure it’s the right one.”
Here are some resources for catching minor errors:
- Editing and Proofreading by the University of North Carolina
- Proofreading & Editing Tips by LR Communication Systems
- Improve Your Writing With These Editing Tips by Stepcase Lifehack
Readers, what are your favorite proofing tips? Public relations professors, feel free to also share how you penalize for basic errors.